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19-07-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2015

Cognitive Therapy and Research 6/2015

Attention Control and Attention to Emotional Stimuli in Anxious Children Before and After Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 6/2015
Marie Louise Reinholdt-Dunne, Karin Mogg, Signe A. Vangkilde, Brendan P. Bradley, Barbara Hoff Esbjørn


This study investigated attention control and attentional bias for emotional stimuli in children with anxiety disorders, compared with disorder-free children. Furthermore, it examined the effect of individual cognitive behavioral therapy on these attentional variables in anxious children. Participants included 22 anxious and 20 control children (aged 7–12 years; 50 % female). Attention control was measured using a partial report-by-color task based on the theory of visual attention, which assesses ability to focus on task-relevant information and resist distraction by non-emotional task-irrelevant information. Attentional bias for emotional faces was assessed using a visual probe task with angry, happy, and neutral faces. Anxious and control children were assessed at baseline (pre-treatment) and, in addition, anxious children were re-assessed post-treatment and at 6 months following treatment. Before treatment, children with clinical anxiety showed poorer attention control and greater attentional bias for emotional faces in comparison to control children. Following treatment, anxious children showed a significant reduction in attentional bias for emotional faces, and a trend for improvement in attention control. There was no significant change in attentional bias or attention control between post-treatment and 6-months follow-up assessments. Findings contribute to prior research by showing that clinically anxious children exhibit both increased attention to emotional information and impaired attention control, and that following treatment their attentional bias and attention control are comparable with those of control children. Further research is required to clarify the extent to which changes in attentional functioning relate to the maintenance of anxiety disorders and responsiveness to treatment.

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